News, Personal, Travel

The Edge

You’re standing at the edge of a precipice, and in front of you, everything is pure white. Deep drifts of freshly fallen snow have obscured the edges of the piste to the point at which definition is negligible. You look down at your feet – a mistake – and see that instead of sensible, grippy boots, your feet are elongated, tapered and completely without traction. An icy breeze blows across your forehead and your breath shortens. You start to slide slowly downhill, and in that second, you know without doubt that you are going to fall down the mountain – it is inevitable, because this scenario feels utterly unnatural.

This is how you will die.

This picture, I’m sure, is fairly benign to the seasoned snow-sport enthusiast. Up until the past weekend, I would’ve categorically described myself as a non-skier. I had skied, but I did not ski. My personal history of this particular activity is fraught with a carefully curated list of memory highlights including: the feeling that I was going to fall off a cliff and be found half-eaten by wolves weeks later, sliding down a red run on my arse and having to be rescued by a stranger, and ripping half the skin off my legs on the spiky plastic “slope” after a one-on-one lesson at Telford dry slope . My parents paid for me to go on the Year 8 ski trip, even though I told them it would be a waste of money to send me because a) I had no friends at that point in high school, so I wouldn’t have any fun, and b) I had a morbid fear of heights, which I knew would not magically disappear after a few days of ski instruction from a 19-year old chalet boy on his gap year.

I tried keeping up in the school group, I really did. I felt positive and hopeful on that first morning, getting my red boots fitted, wearing my brand new salopettes, lilac ski jacket and wrap-around sunglasses with blue tint (it was 2003, so this was a perfectly commendable accessory for a pre-teen). The resort in Les Trois Vallées had an underground shopping mall and I loved sharing a room with three girls from another tutor group who would go on to be great friends of mine well into adulthood. I loved the aprés ski; the evening our school group did karaoke in the hotel bar was my first public singing performance – the first of many. I filled six rolls of Kodak film with photos of my new friends and felt, for the first time in months, that high school might actually be okay.

But I did not love the skiing. I hated the skiing. It was late March and the snowfall had been negligible, the slopes slightly too icy for an absolute beginner like me, not enough grip to comfortably stay upright without seriously hurting my calves. At that time, I was one of the tallest kids in my year (very hard to believe now), and definitely the most terrified. Every day I woke up dreading the hours spent on the piste, quietly hoping I might snap a ligament and be forced to spend my days enjoying the warm, safe comfort of the lounge instead. At least I’d have a legitimate medical excuse that didn’t make me look like a gigantic wuss.

In the end, I was taken out of the group and spent the latter half of the week in the company of my head of year, her husband, and two of my French teachers. It was important that I could locate their bright red and purple ski jackets against the stark whiteness of the French mountainside as they patiently encouraged me to move my skis out of snow plough for a few seconds, so that I might travel downhill rather than stay completely still. It was no use. I was utterly useless and any and all attempt at getting me to ski correctly was met with hysterical tears, particularly after someone bumped into me, sending me screaming down the piste only to be rescued by a nice French man who immediately knew I was Anglais on account of my blatant shitness.

This is another thing: all European kids can ski. They learn from birth, skidding out of the womb in a little snowsuit and matching bobble hat.

I came home at the end of the Easter break exhausted, swearing off snow sports for life. Like cooked carrots and going to the gym in the morning, I’m sure it’s perfectly enjoyable for other people, just not for me.

I have been reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book ‘Sapiens’, and the earlier chapters about human (Homo Sapiens) evolution are of particular interest. The takeaway point for me is that in terms of the entire history of the world, the modern human is essentially brand new. We enjoy being on the ground, or at the most extreme end, halfway up a tree collecting fruit, and definitely not many thousands of feet up in the air. Why would we need to be in the air? Television and bed is on the ground!

I’m actually writing this at 37,000ft. We are somewhere over France, and it is 23:08 local time. I am mentally and physically shattered. This, dear reader, is because I have spent the last few days skiing. Not slowly snow-ploughing down a slight incline outside the resort restaurant once before unclipping my skis and eating Kaiserschmarrn, but really, properly flinging myself at high speed down a mountainside.

And do you know what else? I absolutely bloody loved it.

Do you know that feeling you get when you’re on a plane and a sudden blip of turbulence catches you off-guard while you’re listening to a nice podcast, and the image of your imminent death flashes through your mind? That’s one of those evolutionary, Hunter Gatherer throwbacks Harari talks about in his book. Rationally, we know skiing and flying is fine, it’s relatively safe and despite what 24-hour global news feeds would have us believe, serious incidents are very rare. It’s the same fleeting moment of panic I got standing at the top of that mountain the other day, faced with a blank whiteness, fading daylight and snow flurries that stung my eyeballs, feeling that I had neither the requisite skill nor the co-ordination to get to the bottom of the piste without seriously injuring myself or others.

I felt that panic, and I ignored it. Or to be more precise, I acknowledged it and then told it to fuck off. And then I pointed my feet downhill.

Happy face = enjoyment
Confessional, Personal

Algorithm

Welcome to LoveApp! Log in with Facebook?

Sign in, upload a profile photo, set the parameters. Is 25 too young? Is 35 too old? You’re now of an age where marriage and kids don’t seem like such a terrifying prospect. You’re still not sure about the big, white wedding thing, but you doubt anyone younger will want that any time soon either, and your fertility has already begun its decline. Don’t waste your time on 25. 27 to 34. That seems reasonable. Dan Stevens is 34, and if he wasn’t already married, you’d be trying to meet him at a press night to get his number.

Distance is trickier. What if the love of your life lives in Staines-upon-Thames? That’s nearly 30 miles away! You think about how you lived two miles from Staines for three years of your life and never found true love at the Wetherspoons on the high street, so it’s probably unlikely now. You decide 12 miles sounds reasonable. About as far away from your house as Highgate. Lovely Highgate.

What are your interests? You don’t want to come across as being too much at this early stage. Maybe don’t mention the novel you’ve half written in your biography. He can find out about that later. You decide to include the bit about being a PR and a singer; those are relatively vague, non-threatening, feminine traits. You include a quote from a Netflix original you love. If they pick up on that, you at least know they enjoy that one show. It’s such a good show, you think, remembering how the comedian said he probably won’t write another series. End on a high.

Additional photos. Men are dreadful at uploading pictures of themselves in huge groups of other men, which means you can never tell who this ‘Jeff’ is. You don’t think you have any group photos anyway. Just plenty of individual shots taken by a patient friend before a night out, and classic, only-child holiday photos taken by your Mum. Do you look too unfriendly here? You like the way your cheekbones look, so it stays. Better have a full-length one, too, just because… you’re not sure why. You wouldn’t date anyone who didn’t like you for being overweight, anyway. You forgot to eat dinner again. Your jeans are feeling a bit loose.

You put down your phone and exhale. What are the chances that an bit of computer code can find a partner who is in every way perfect for you? What if your ideal man is actually 24 and living in Berkshire, and so outside of your self-imposed parameters? You smile grimly and remember that one guy who was the literal embodiment of perfect. You remember how badly it hurt when he told you he was leaving you for someone else. Perfect is overrated, anyway, you think. It’s about much more than limitations and preferences.

You remind yourself that in a huge, international city like London, the chances of meeting The One on your commute are pretty minimal. Besides, nobody makes eye contact on trains, and you usually listen to a Spotify jazz playlist and plough through whatever book you’re reading that week. You can’t think of anyone you know who met their significant other on public transport, but plenty who made it to Serious Relationship Status on a dating app. This gives you hope. You pick up your phone again and open the app.

A face pops up. It’s a photo of a smiling man, who you establish by looking at the black writing underneath the face is 29, and called Tim. Hmm. You don’t really see yourself with a Tim. There’s something imperceivable about him that makes you think of a funeral undertaker, perhaps in the way his hair is parted to the side. Your finger hovers momentarily over the (X) and taps down. In less than five seconds, you made a decision that Tim was not the man for you. You blame the algorithm. Surely it would know that you would never date a Tim with a silly haircut?

But what if you met Tim in a bar, or at a wedding? His friends have no idea why he is single, because by all accounts he’s awesome. He’s been hurt by an ex-girlfriend who strung him along for months before announcing she’d been sleeping with a co-worker, but he’s over it now and ready to commit to someone deserving of him. He doesn’t want to mess about. He has gentle eyes the colour of sea glass, but you couldn’t see that because of the poor resolution of his profile photo, or maybe you were immediately put off by his undertaker hair and didn’t care to look. Tim comes from a kind, liberal family and has a sister called Genevieve who loves karaoke and walking her little dachshund, Rigby, on the Kent Downs.

You won’t ever meet Tim. He was right there, in the palm of your hand. The algorithm thought you two would have a great time! The algorithm saw two, good-looking young people who both enjoyed literature and American football and did its level best to hook them up! In five seconds that connection was broken, because you made a snap decision based on a couple of tiny bits of information about that living, breathing human being.

The way people meet and fall in love is undeniably changing. Perhaps your reluctance to get on board with dating apps is generational, because you can still remember very clearly being told by your teachers and parents to never, ever meet someone from ‘the internet’ in the real world, or get in an unlicensed mini-cab. In a world where one of the sweetest things your date could do is summon an unlicensed mini-cab from the internet and send you home alone and slightly hammered, it’s not surprising you’re a little overwhelmed by this seemingly rapid u-turn in expectation.

Another face pops up. Jonathan, 31. This time, you give this profile a thorough read-through, and think of a future of possibilities based on a handful of photographs, and a few lines of text. You momentarily think of Tim, and how you were too quick to dismiss him. Or was it the idea of him? Your hand moves left. (❤️).